Hilma Granqvist
(In)Visible Women in Social Sciences and Social Work

Hilma Granqvist (1890-1972)

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    „My Body is trapped in Finland, but my heart will always be in Palestine” Granqvist in her diary

    Hilma Granqvist, Doctor of Practical Philosophy

    “Hilma Granqvist […] was the first woman in Finland to earn a Ph.D. in practical philosophy. In the 1920s and ‘30s, she conducted a detailed ethnological investigation in the Palestinian village of Artas. Her ground-breaking methodology and the unexpected results that she presented met with resistance at the University of Helsinki, and she was ultimately barred from defending her dissertation and from accepting a lectureship there. While her work was soon forgotten in Finland, Palestinians still pay tribute to her.” (Sofia Häggman)

    Information about Dr. Rosanna Sirignano

    We are very thankful for Dr. Rosanna Sirignanos support, contribution, and inspiration. The character of the girl, who becomes a scientist is based on her:

    “I got to know Hilma Granqvist from my BA and MA supervisor. When I first discovered her biography, I was immediately fascinated. Her courage, perseverance, patience and stubbornness in the face of difficulties, marked her as a painstaking researcher, determined to achieve her goals.” (Rosanna Sirignano)

    Dr. Sirignano is a renowned expert on the life and work of Hilma Granqvist. She currently works as a freelance educator in Arabic language, Islamic Studies, and digital entrepreneur. She has written and defended her doctoral thesis in Islamic Studies at University of Heidelberg. In 2014 she joined the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a global context" at the same university, as Student Assistant for the Start-up Professorship for Transcultural Studies (Humanities). In 2016, after two years of training in Semitic Studies, with a special focus on Syrian and Palestinian Arabic, she joined the Cluster's Graduate Programme for Transcultural Studies (GPTS).

    Selected publications by Dr. Sirignano:

    Sirignano, Rosanna 2014, Popular wisdom and marriage customs in a Palestinian village: Proverbs and sayings in Hilma Granqvist's work, Studi Interculturali 22014, pp. 189-208 , Mediterránea, Centro di Studi Interculturali, Trieste.

    Sirignano, Rosanna 2013, Mother and Child in Palestine: the Arṭās material in Hilma Granqvist’s Nachlass at the Palestine Exploration Fund, Studi Interculturali 3/2013, pp. 159- 181, Mediterránea, Centro di Studi Interculturali, Trieste.

    Short biography
    • Hilma Granqvist was born on the 17.07.1890
    • Her family was part of a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland
    • From early on she was very observant and had a keen interest in people
    • 1917 In the autumn she begins to study several subjects including pedagogics, psychology, and practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki
    • 1922 Because of the limited research opportunities in Helsinki, she transferred to the Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin  she encountered a different approach to research there, which inspired her to conduct her own field research for her Ph.D. in Palestine
    • Her professor in Helsinki didn‘t approve that she conducted field research in Palestine
    • She found support in Germany: A professor in Leipzig enrolled her in his course at the German Insitute in Jerusalem à as a woman, she needed a special permit because only men could enroll in the course
    • After finishing the course in Jerusalem, she conducts her first field study in the village of Artas where she lodges with Louise Baldensperger[1] (1925-1927)
    • In Artas Granqvist decides not to study “women of the Old Testament” and embarks on an in-depth study of the village community with an emphasis on marriage traditions
    • 1927-1930 Back in Finland she faces some opposition and for exampleisn'tallowedtodefend her dissertationat Helsinki University
    • 1930-1931 Granqvist travels to Palestine for the 2nd time. She arrives in January and spends about one year in the country. She collects more material, writes newspaper articles and travels in the area
    • 1932 Granqvist finally gets her Ph.D. in practicalphilosophy at Åbo Akademi with her Thesis on “Marriage Conditions” (Part 1)
    • 1939 – 1944 during the winter war in Finland Granqvist works on her books and sorted through her extensive material
    • After the war Granqvist lived close to her brother Valter and his family
    • After the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948 she was constantly worried about Palestine and her friends there à She tried to raise awareness about the situation in Palestine in Finland
    • 1959 3rd and last trip to Palestine à she was devastated after visiting the refugee camps
    • Hilma Granqvist dies at her home on the 25.02.1972

    Further links and literature

    The archive of “Svenska Litteratursällskapet” contains much information about Granqvist's biography aswell as a collection of her works and photographs.

    Following webinars from leading Granqvist experts give a good insight into Granqvist's life with many details about her biography, her work and are accompanied by Granqvist's photographs.

    • Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland (06.04.2021). “Webinar: Hilma Granqvist – a Pioneer in - Palestine. Anthropological Fieldwork in the 1920s” [Video]. Min 3:50 – 15:19 “The life and work of Hilma Granqvist” Dr. Sofia Häggman. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqDrFxIbFBI&t=261s (Accessed 03.08.22).
    • Finnish Institute of the Middle East (22.02.2022): “Webinar: Hilma Granqvist’s work and legacy in Palestine and in scholarship” [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQo2_iwdK_4 (Accessed 03.08.2022).

    Granqvists books:


    Sirignano, Rosanna (2012): "Mother and Child in Palestine: the Artas material in Hilma Granqvist's Nachlass at the Palestine Exploration Fund." Studi Interculturali 3/2013, pp. 159–181. Mediterránea, Centro di Studi Interculturali, Trieste. ISBN 978-1-291-59885-8

    Weir, Shelagh G. (1975). Hilma Granqvist and Her Contribution to Palestine Studies. Bulletin
    (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies), Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 6-13. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/194599 (Accessed 11.01.22).